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Key witness says Eddie Gallagher stabbed wounded ISIS fighter in the neck but does not remember specifics
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — The main thing to remember about Navy SEAL Chief Craig Miller's testimony on Wednesday is that he didn't seem to remember a lot.
Miller, considered a key witness in the trial of Chief Eddie Gallagher, testified that he saw his former platoon chief stab the wounded ISIS fighter but was unable to recall a number of details surrounding that event. Gallagher is accused of murdering the wounded fighter and separately firing on innocent civilians during a deployment to Mosul, Iraq in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty.
Under direct questioning by prosecutors, Miller spoke about what happened on or around May 3, 2017, when Iraqi forces brought in a wounded ISIS fighter to the SEALs' compound. Miller, then the leading petty officer of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon and on his third deployment, told a packed court room that the fighter looked "scrawny" and "young" when he was hauled in on the hood of a Humvee.
"I remember Chief Gallagher arrived after that," Miller said, adding that he was then eating lunch at a nearby vehicle. The SEAL said the fighter, who was speaking, had a leg wound but no other noticeable injuries.
Gallagher then began assessing the fighter's wounds. When he put pressure on the man's leg, the fighter raised himself up, seemingly in pain, and screamed. Miller testified that he used his boot to push him back down before leaving the scene to go back to the vehicle.
About 15 minutes later, Miller testified, he returned and walked around a Humvee where he saw SEAL medics working on the fighter from about 12 feet away. Gallagher, he said, was kneeling down on the fighter's right side.
"I kept walking and I saw him stab the prisoner in the neck," Miller said. He pointed to the right side of his own neck to show where the stabbing occurred. Gallagher stabbed him "once or twice," Miller said.
Afterward, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Corey Scott, one of the medics, "jumped back a little bit," Miller testified. He also said that blood came pouring out of the fighter's neck, which "looked similar to a baby throwing up."
Miller testified that he then immediately went looking for the SEAL platoon commander, Lt. Jake Portier. In a bombed out building, Miller said he told Portier what he had just seen.
Soon after, a reenlistment ceremony for Gallagher was carried out near the body, Miller testified. Then they all took a group photo with the body, which included Miller. It was "not okay" that he participated in the photo, Miller admitted, since it was "unprofessional" and could be used in ISIS propaganda.
Later that evening, Miller testified, the SEALs had a meeting to discuss the day's events. Miller said, "I told them what I saw and I asked if anybody was okay with it." Towards the end of the meeting, Gallagher walked in and pulled Miller aside, and the junior sailor testified that he told him, "Eddie, the guys are not good with this," When Gallagher asked which guys, Miller said, "I'm not good with it."
Besides recounting events in Iraq, Miller also said Gallagher threatened him in a parking lot soon after they returned from deployment. In a meeting Miller testified that he attended along with Lt. Portier, Chief Gallagher, and Lt. Thomas MacNeill, he quoted Gallagher as saying he "had shit on all of us" and if we said any more "he'd take us all down."
Under cross examination, the defense went on offense against Miller, who seemed at times to be rattled during questioning by attorney Tim Parlatore.
After asking how many times Miller had met with prosecutors and NCIS agents ("several"), Parlatore asked whether he hated Gallagher. "I think I don't trust Eddie Gallagher," Miller said. He then admitted that he told others that Gallagher was "evil."
Hearing "I don't remember" seemed to be a common theme for much of Miller's testimony.
As former Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dylan Dille testified that morning, some SEALs in the platoon were part of a WhatsApp text message chain called the "Sewing Circle." When asked about this, Miller said he couldn't recall much of what was discussed and he did not know specifically which members of the platoon were on the text chain.
Additionally, Miller said he did not remember the ISIS fighter's age. Other things he did not remember included who in the platoon wore helmet cameras, who a person named Mike was that he mentioned to NCIS agents, or, really, much of what he had told NCIS.
"I got pretty worked up" during the NCIS interview, he explained.
When asked what he specifically told Portier after the stabbing incident, Miller said he couldn't "remember everything" but that it amounted to, "we should pack up and leave because I felt we were combat ineffective."
Parlatore then asked what happened next. Answer: I don't remember. Frustrated, Miller told Parlatore, "sir, this process has been a very long process. I don't remember every conversation I've had."
Parlatore then pivoted back to the reenlistment ceremony, asking him whether he knew the oath of enlistment. He had heard it before — he was on his second enlistment — and had been at other reenlistment ceremonies. But he could not remember it then. "Right now I just can't," he said.
When asked whether he had any medical issues that affected his memory, Miller said no.
Meanwhile, Parlatore asked whether Miller had played with a drone after the reenlistment ceremony that had followed the ISIS fighter's death. After Miller said he did not remember, Parlatore played a video for him to refresh his memory, which was not seen by the jury.
Though jurors did not see the video, they listened as Parlatore described what it showed during his questioning. In the first video, taken from a SEAL's helmet camera, Miller is seen controlling a quad copter before turning toward the SEAL filming and smiling. In the second video, someone other than Miller is controlling the quad copter, which can be seen moving close back and forth across the ISIS fighter's body — now covered with a green blanket — before it is bounced off "the ISIS terrorist's head," Parlatore said.
"I do not remember seeing that," Miller said. "I do not remember the drone stuff." When asked whether the fighter's body was in the same place the next day, Miller also said he didn't know.
Parlatore tried to further chip away at Miller's credibility by questioning his recent application for a concealed carry permit in San Diego, in which he indicated he had received death threats. He said that since the case was so politicized, he was told there had been threats against him but they did not come directly from Gallagher.
"You ever live in New Mexico?" Parlatore then asked.
After Miller said no, he was questioned extensively on why he had applied as a volunteer police officer in New Mexico, despite not living or working in the state. Further questions and answers seemed to indicate that Miller was among a number of current and former SEALs who had participated in a scheme cooked up by a small town police chief to hand out badges that allowed them to conceal carry weapons in all 50 states, in exchange for a $400 annual fee.
"Did you do anything other than get a badge?" Parlatore asked. Miller said no.
Miller was also asked about SEALs drinking in Iraq. The SEAL's assistant officer in charge, Lt. Thomas MacNeill, had testified on Tuesday that he had "drank with most, if not all, of the enlisted SEALs on the roof" of their safe house, and had also "played DJ."
"I did not drink up on the roof," Miller said. "Chief Gallagher was there."
When asked whether Lt. MacNeill had found empty beer bottles in a Humvee, Miller said he didn't remember. Did Gallagher talk to you about it? Parlatore asked.
"I didn't drink and drive," Miller answered. Noting that Miller was the vehicle commander, Parlatore asked him whether he allowed others to drink inside the vehicle. "Yes or no?" he asked.
Miller said he did not remember.
The trial is expected to last roughly two weeks. On Thursday, Special Warfare Operators 1st Class Corey Scott and T.C. Byrne, both platoon medics, are expected to testify.
The admiral in charge of Navy special operators will decide whether to revoke the tridents for Eddie Gallagher and other SEALs involved in the Navy's failed attempt to prosecute Gallagher for murder, a defense official said Tuesday.
The New York Times' David Philipps first reported on Tuesday that the Navy could revoke the SEAL tridents for Gallagher as well as his former platoon commander Lt. Jacob Portier and two other SEALs: Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch and Lt. Thomas MacNeil.
The four SEALs will soon receive a letter that they have to appear before a board that will consider whether their tridents should be revoked, a defense official told Task & Purpose on condition of anonymity.
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